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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "David Lidington MP"

Our survey. Gove is Minister of the Year.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-26-at-17.11.06 Our survey. Gove is Minister of the Year. ToryDiary Thérèse Coffey MP Theresa Villiers MP Theresa May MP The Cabinet Simon Hart MP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Priti Patel MP Philip Hammond MP Penny Mordaunt MP Nick Gibb MP Liam Fox MP Karen Bradley MP Jeremy Wright MP Jeremy Hunt MP James Cleverly MP James Brokenshire MP Highlights Greg Clark MP Grant Shapps MP Gavin Williamson MP Dominic Raab MP David Mundell MP David Lidington MP David Gauke MP Damian Hinds MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Chris Grayling MP Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Ben Wallace MP Andrea Leadsom MP Amber Rudd MP Alun Cairns MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP  At the beginning of the year, the following were not members of the Cabinet –

Boris Johnson; Dominic Raab; Priti Patel; Robert Buckland; Ben Wallace; Therese Coffey; Theresa Villiers; Robert Jenrick; Grant Shapps; Alister Jack; Simon Hart; Alok Sharma; James Cleverly.

(We leave aside for a moment those entitled to attend.)

And the following were members of the Cabinet –

Theresa May; David Lidington, Philip Hammond; Jeremy Hunt; Penny Mordaunt; David Gauke; Damian Hinds; Liam Fox; Greg Clark; Chris Grayling; James Brokenshire; David Mundell; Alun Cairns; Karen Bradley; Jeremy Wright; Amber Rudd; Brandon Lewis.

(Again, we leave for a moment those entitled to attend.)

One member of the present Cabinet, Gavin Williamson, was a member at the start of the year and at the end – but sacked in between.

Another, Andrea Leadsom, ends the year as a fully-fledged member, began with the right to attend…and resigned between the two.

All of which is a reminder of what a turbulent year this has been at the top of politics – as well as elsewhere.

This pace of change made it hard to select four candidates to put to the panel as Minister of the Year.  (And we might have looked beyond the top table – to Nick Gibb, say, at the Education Department.)

But in the end we settled on two energetic Cabinet ministers who served the year in the same roles throughout: Michael Gove and Matt Hancock.

And also chucked in Geoffrey Cox, who as Attorney General has had the right to attend throughout, and Liz Truss, originally entitled to attend as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and now Secretary of State for International Trade.

Gove’s creativity and media skills will always serve him well in surveys like these, and he is duly top once again with over half the vote.

Cox’s good showing suggests that our pro-Brexit panel will always take a shine to pro-Brexit Ministers.  It is sobering to reflect that Gove also tried and failed to become Conservative leader this year…

…And that though we’re confident he will survive the large-scale reshuffle due at the end of January (assuming he wants to stay), further large-scale change is sure to come.

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Johnson’s shuffle. If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – don’t complain when it’s delivered.

ConservativeHome offered Boris Johnson advice on his coming reshuffle over a month ago.  Whatever you do, we said, shuffle with purpose.  Every single member of your new Cabinet must be signed up to leaving the EU on October 31 – without a deal if necessary.  Do or die.  All together now.  Band of brothers (and sisters).  No more Theresa May-era mass resignations over Brexit policy, totting up in the end to over 50, even without taking into account the very last ones.

A question this morning is whether or not the new Prime Minister has followed that train of thought to the point where it crashes into the buffers – and drives uncontrollably through them, leaving a trail of wreckage and corpses in its wake.  For he not only fired those Cabinet members who couldn’t support the policy (those that were left, anyway), but went on to sack many of those who surely could have done, or would at least have made their peace with it.

Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds, David Mundell, James Brokenshire, Karen Bradley, Jeremy Wright – all of these would presumably have rallied round the new leader.  Two of them, Fox and Mordaunt, were 2016 Brexiteers.  The latter was prominent within Vote Leave.  One of them, Brokenshire, was a Johnson voter in the leadership election.  Yet the new Prime Minister deliberately chose to bundle them up in no fewer than nine full Cabinet sackings.  Greg Clark hung on until the end, while Chris Grayling went of his own volition. That brings the total to ten.

This was the bloodiest Cabinet Walpurgisnacht in modern history – making Macmillan’s night of the long knives look like a day trip to Balamory (although technically the changes marked the start of a new Government, not a shuffle within the old one).  Add the ten to the departure of Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and David Lidington, and one reaches 15.  And that’s before getting into the dismissal of MPs entitled to attend, such as Mel Stride and Clare Perry.  That’s ten Conservative MPs alienated and in some cases added, perhaps, to the core of perhaps 25 ultra-rebellious Tory Soft Brexiteers and Remainers.  And the Government’s majority soon looks to dwindle to one.

There are many ways of assessing the replacements for the departed 15 or so.  For a start, there is ethnicity.  To Sajid Javid is added Rishi Sunak, now to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Alok Sharma at International Development plus, above all, Priti Patel at the Home Office (and of those entitled to attend there is James Cleverly, the new Party Chairman, plus Kwasi Kwarteng).  Then there are women: to Patel, we can add Liz Truss at Trade, Andrea Leadsom at Business, Theresa Villiers at Environment, Nicky Morgan at Culture, Amber Rudd at Work and Pensions.  This is Johnson’s briefed-in-advance “Cabinet for modern Britain”.  May had only three female members of her full Cabinet: Rudd, Mordaunt, Bradley and herself.  Javid was the only ethnic minority member.

As for the changes themselves, they seem to us to be a mixed bag.  Sunak, Cleverly, Leadsom, Robert Buckland at Justice, Ben Wallace at Defence: these are good appointments.  Julian Smith will know the Northern Ireland scene well from his work as Chief Whip.  Alister Jack is presumably in because Johnson wants a Leaver at the Scottish Office.  Nicky Morgan at Culture can take as her motto the saying of Leo X: “God has given us the papacy – let us enjoy it”.  Robert Jenrick, with Sunak one of three authors of a pro-Johnson leadership endorsement, has a big promotion to housing.  Their co-signatory, Oliver Dowden, will be a Cabinet Office Minister “entitled to attend”.

He will be among a swelling group of people: no fewer than ten, including Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House.  The new Prime Minister is doing nothing to make the Cabinet more compact.  The site would have preferred to see Theresa Villiers back at Northern Ireland rather than pitched in to Michael Gove’s shoes at Environment.  The big experiment will be exposing Gavin Williamson to the electorally-sensitive world of teachers and parents.

But if you want to locate the key to this reshuffle, it isn’t ethnicity, or gender, or finding horses for courses.  Rather, it is support for Johnson himself – and for Brexit. Rudd is the only declared Hunt voter to survive.  Morgan plumped for Gove.  Everyone else voted either for Johnson, right from the start of this contest, or at least after elimination themselves (if we know what they did at all).  Furthermore, 15 out of the 32 people eligible to gather round the Cabinet table voted Leave in 2016, compared to seven out of 29 in May’s last Cabinet.

Dom Raab at the Foreign Office – First Secretary of State, to boot – plus Patel, and Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office, working hand in glove with Dominic Cummings, while Steve Barclay hangs on at DexEU.  These are all general election-ready, Vote Leave veterans.  One has the spooky sensation, looking at this Cabinet and leadership, that the year is somehow 2016 – and that we now have the Government that we should have had then, ready at last to counter the charge that Vote Leave scurried away from Brexit, rather than manning up to deliver it.

Yes, the slaugher is spectacular.  And yes, the demotion of Hunt was unwise – though perhaps not as much so as his own refusal to take responsibility in government for our armed forces.  But look at it all another way.  Johnson stood accused of being a soft touch – indecisive; yielding; vacant.  So one can scarcely complain when he wields – not least before those who look on from abroad – the power that the premiership still has.  Brexiteers are accused of not taking responsibility.  After this shuffle, they can’t be: Johnson and Patel and Raab and company are unmistakably, unmissably in charge.

Remainers and Leavers alike can converge on a shared point.  Vote Leave helped to create Brexit.  Let their leaders now own it.  If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – one can scarcely complain when it’s delivered.

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Johnson’s reshuffle. Live Blog. What will happen to Hunt?


We are opening this live blog earlier than is perhaps proper.  Boris Johnson will not kiss hands until this afternoon, after Theresa May’s final PMQs, and a last statement from her outside Downing Street.  He is not Prime Minister yet and therefore cannot formally begin his reshuffle.

However, we can identify some themes and points even at this stage.

  • There will be at least three Cabinet resignations today – Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Rory Stewart are set to depart before Johnson takes office – and there are therefore at least three vacancies round the Cabinet table.  David Lidington will presumably refuse to serve under a Government committed to an October 31 No Deal: ditto, surely, Greg Clark.
  • Julian Smith, who as Chief Whip is entitled to attend Cabinet, is clearly moving up down or out.  That’s because the appointment of a new Chief Whip has been briefed out: Mark Spencer.  Spencer is Number Three in the current Whips’ Office, has served in it since the 2016 election, and is thus very experienced in terms of this relatively inexperienced office.  The key to the appointment seems to be, as so often, in trust: Spencer has served as Johnson’s whip, and the two men get on well.  He is low-profile – which one wants in a whip – has been doubling up as Deputy Commons Leader, and is a former Remainer.  That his appointment has been welcomed on Twitter by both Rory Stewart and Steve Baker is a sign that Spencer has an ecumenical appeal among his colleages.  We also read the appointment as a sign that Johnson expects most of his trouble to come from the pro-Remain wing of the party, and wants to combine reach to it with continuity in the Whips Office.
  • Elsewhere, there is a mass of rumour and speculation, which this blog will try, not entirely successfully, to avoid getting drawn into.  Buzzfeed has a scorecard of conflicting lobby predictionsWe made some recommendations over a month ago, based on the premis that Johnson’s Cabinet members must, repeat must, be committed to leaving on October 31, if necessary without a deal (which raises the question of whether Amber Rudd is now reconciled to this position).  Johnson said that such is his intention when interviewed by this site.  Needless to say, this site will also be keeping a record of which of our ideas have been followed up – if any.
  • Having cautioned against reshuffle briefings, there are two that looks reasonably solid.  The first is that Johnson will appoint “a Cabinet for modern Britain”.  In crude political terms, this means he is seeking to escape being framed by his opponents as a narrow right-winger – a British Trump fixated on a nativist version of Brexit.  In crude appointment terms, that means more women (Theresa May’s Cabinet has only four full women MP members) and more ethnic minority members.  Names to watch for therefore include: Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Andrea Leadsom, and perhaps Esther McVey, Lucy Frazer, Rishi Sunak and Victoria Atkins.  Either Theresa Villiers or possibly Nicky Morgan could also return, but it is unlikely that both could do so.
  • The second briefing is of a stand-off between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt (which this site can confirm).  The former has reportedly decided to demote Hunt, in effect, by offering him Defence, which the latter is resisting.  For what it’s worth, our take is that the new leader would be wrong to seek to move Hunt down a rung because, if the Foreign Secretary is prepared ultimately to back leaving on October 31, Johnson will need all the senior support for this position he can get.  And after all, Hunt has just nabbed a third of the membership vote in the leadership election.  And our view is also that Hunt would be wrong to refuse Defence: it is a very senior post, if not a great office of state, and many MPs, not to mention Party members, would take a poor view of Hunt being unwilling to take responsibility for our servicemen and women.  Especially after the defence spending aspirations that he expressed during the leadership contest.
  • Finally at this stage, moving Hunt into Defence would mean moving the recently-appointed Penny Mordaunt out of it.  Such a plan would be consistent, given Johnson’s stress on promoting women, with a move up for Mordaunt into a great office of state.  But she was a Hunt supporter during the leadership election, and she and Johnson reportedly don’t get on.  That is an ominous storm-cloud.

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Henry Hill: Westminster legislating for Northern Ireland sets a useful precedent for the DUP

DUP accepts Westminster changing abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Sam McBride writes for the Independent that the Government’s parliamentary allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, show no sign of causing ministers much difficulty over the Commons legislating for the Province on social issues.

Although the socially-conservative party is formally opposed to extending same-sex marriage or legal abortion to Ulster, in truth many of its modernisers will be quietly pleased that these particular boils have been lanced without the Party having to risk alienating its core support by being directly involved.

Moreover, as I explained in last week’s column, the DUP will also be very pleased that MPs have blown such a large hole in the Government’s increasingly threadbare case for refusing to introduce wholesale direct rule. Just about the only remaining justification for the Northern Irish Office’s current non-solution of letting the civil service govern Northern Ireland without democratic oversight has been the relative consistency with which ministers have stuck to it.

Now that Parliament has acted directly to take important decisions in the absence of a devolved administration (and the passage of these amendments means that it is now certain not to return before their October 21 deadline, as doing so could block the reforms), it will be much harder to justify refusing to step in again. Noted unionist blogger Owen Polley has set out in a piece for the Article some areas which could do with ministerial attention.

However John Larkin, the Northern Irish Attorney General, has raised concerns about the drafting of the abortion amendment, drafted by Stella Creasy and overwhelmingly passed by MPs, according to the News Letter. He reportedly feels that it is “is unclear and inconsistent with important human rights texts”. Lord Duncan, an NIO minister, appears to share his concerns and has hinted that the Government may try to push back the deadline.

By contrast to their relative quiescence on these issues, the DUP have not been shy about naming their price in other areas. This week Nigel Dodds, the leader of the party’s Westminster group, indicated that they were rowing behind the Sun’s campaign on behalf of veterans and would make policies for ex-servicemen and women part of the next confidence and supply deal. Unionist concern at the handling of so-called ‘legacy investigations’ into soldiers remains high.

Hunt urges Johnson to rule out more powers for Holyrood…

The Herald reports that Jeremy Hunt has called on Boris Johnson to ‘draw a line under devolution’ and rule out any new tax powers for the Scottish Parliament, in the same week that he himself pledged not to approve a second referendum on Scottish independence even in the event of a separatist majority at the 2021 Holyrood elections.

Amidst reports that the underdog is hoping to run up a “big win” north of the border, where local Tories are reportedly deeply wary of what a Johnson premiership might been for their political recovery, a story resurfaced that Johnson once asked Nicola Sturgeon if full fiscal autonomy – a confederal arrangement wherein Scotland would have its own Treasury – would “buy off” the SNP.

This comes in the same week that Lord Forsyth, the former Secretary of State for Scotland and far-sighted opponent of devolution, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the real threat to the Union lay in constantly giving the nationalists and devocrats more powers. Stephen Daisley also penned a magisterial piece (for which I even got a little credit) for the Scottish Daily Mail on the same theme – it has been a good week for devosceptics.

…as First Minister of Wales picks new fight on ‘devolved powers’…

Meanwhile Mark Drakeford, the strongly-nationalist but technically-Labour First Minister of Wales, has attacked both candidates’ plans to replace EU funding with a UK-operated Shared Prosperity Fund.

Drakeford, who has stated that he views the UK as essentially a non-sovereign confederation, claims that Johnson’s intention for there to be a “strong Conservative influence” over the funding contradicts Labour’s motto of “Not a penny lost, not a power stolen” by suggesting a shift in power back towards London, the BBC reports.

This would, of course, be a very good thing, and entirely in line with the aims of Theresa May’s legacy-building devolution inquiry of finding ways to enhance the role of the British Government in the devolved territories. Neither Johnson nor Hunt should flinch from taking Drakeford – who has declared his party’s support for the UK to be ‘conditional’ – head-on.

…and Lidington and Mundell warn of danger to Union

On the other side of the argument, David Lidington warned this week that English ‘apathy’ about the United Kingdom risked breaking it up. According to the Times, he said:

“In England, I think that there is an indifference to the Union; a sense of taking it for granted. It is something that is there as part of the landscape rather than something that you’ve really got to make a conscious effort to work to sustain.”

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, also warned that a no-deal exit might strengthen the hand of the separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland – even as his son Oliver, an MSP, has endorsed Johnson on this site on the basis that he will “deliver Brexit and secure the Union”.

Johnson has pledged this week to prioritise keeping the UK together over Brexit, although we must stress again that on the available evidence that isn’t the choice.

News in Brief:

  • Barclay warns that no-deal exit will harm Ireland more than the UK – Daily Telegraph
  • Dublin admits it will impose border checks under a no-deal scenario – The Sun
  • Reality intrudes on the Irish Government’s Brexit game plan – Irish Times
  • Johnson pledges £160 million ‘back payments’ to Scottish farmers – Daily Telegraph
  • SNP MP has made citizens’ assembly ‘ten times harder’, says adviser – The Herald
  • Davidson lashes out at Labour for letting unions set its Brexit policy – Daily Express

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Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: May denounces Corbyn as a Groucho Marxist

Theresa May flung Marx at Jeremy Corbyn: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

That comes, she reminded the House, not from Karl but from Groucho, and applies all too well to this malleable Leader of the Opposition, now reduced to following his Remainer colleagues.

Corbyn cannot speak with authority, and usually evades, as too difficult, whatever the issue of the hour may be. Today he took refuge in a worthy sequence of questions about legal aid.

Once we get a new Prime Minister, there will surely have to be a new Leader of the Opposition, capable of holding the Government to account, and plausible as an alternative PM.

The age of May and Corbyn will become, perhaps, a shadowy period, over which historians will pass in a sentence or two.

The sense of things coming to an end was intensified by the Prime Minister’s expression of “great regret” at the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch from the post of Ambassador in Washington.

David Lidington, sitting on one side of May, nodded with unbounded and repeated emphasis as she said this.

Philip Hammond, sitting on the other side of her, nodded ever so slightly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not a demonstrative man, and can seldom be found lamenting others’ misfortunes.

May accused Corbyn of doing “his best to ignore the anti-semitism in his party”, and pointed out that Lord Triesman and two other Labour peers have just resigned from the party because of this.

She remarked that Labour’s cry used to be “education, education, education”, but now “it’s just tax, tax, tax, injustice, injustice”.

Corbyn had already said he is “totally committed to eliminating racism in any form”. But if this is so, why have the three peers gone?

PMQs went on for too long. The Speaker has got into the habit of allowing as much time as backbenchers need to get a fair crack of the whip.

The same effect could be achieved if everyone asked shorter questions. The House has become self-indulgent. MPs no longer concentrate on expressing themselves with the greatest possible concision and force.

They ask long-winded questions, which give the Prime Minister longer to think, and more chance to evade the heart of the matter by rambling on about inessentials.

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From Reggie to Rory Sahib: Greetings on your Grand Tour. Here, Boris and J.Hunt esquire are showering punters with taxpayers’ cash

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2017-09-09-at-11.14.55 From Reggie to Rory Sahib: Greetings on your Grand Tour. Here, Boris and J.Hunt esquire are showering punters with taxpayers’ cash Sir Nicholas Soames MP Rory Stewart MP Priti Patel MP Penny Mordaunt MP Mark Francois MP Light relief Jeremy Hunt MP Jeremy Corbyn MP Iain Duncan Smith MP Highlights David Lidington MP Conservatives Conservative leadership election 2019 Columnists Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Amber Rudd MP From: Reggie@toptory.lidl.com

To: Rory.Stewart@Maiwand.com

Subject: Brexit Bidding Competition

Rory Sahib!

I have enjoyed reading your Twitter account and the photos taken on your Grand Tour of the Gulf States. I hope you are trying to hose down our American cousins who want to biff the Ayatollah and his Imans.

How time flies when we are enjoying the Brexit train crash. You laid down a good marker for the next leadership contest – could be before the festive season.

All is quiet on my home front as Lady Mary has been in France as the Patroness of the Lionesses football team. You probably saw her in twinset and pearls standing behind assorted muscular ladies. Can’t say I approve as women are far more lethal on the pitch than men. I still have a cracked shin bone from playing against Cheltenham Gals College in the 1950s.

Last week, Soames and I attended the Armed Forces Day Parade in Winchester in blistering heat. “Bubbles” Smythe gave us a lift in his roller, and parked outside the Cathedral in a spot reserved for the Dean. Then a liquid lunch at one of the better hotels. We raised our goblets to you in an alcohol-free zone.

Now what’s been happening here in the leadership contest? As far as I can tell Boris and J Hunt Esquire are trying to outbid each other in the Brexit war, and showering taxpayers’ money on every interest group. There are all these ghastly photos of them hugging passers by and avoiding difficult questions.

Boris seems to lurch from one disaster to the next. To divert the attention of reptiles he says he relaxes by painting wine boxes to look like buses! Sounds a bit like Comrade Corbyn photographing drainage covers. You wouldn’t have had all this rollicking nonsense from Harold M or Mrs T.

To steady the nerves of his supporters, he has appointed IDS as his campaign manager. As Soames opined, based on his sterling successes as our leader 20 years ago and reforming the welfare morass. I put it about that Rees-Mogg and S Baker were drawing up lists of potential ministers – Francois to defence and Patel to the FCO. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the weaker brethren.

Then we have had that hoary old suggestion to cut the Cabinet by half – international development to the FCO and Welfare, for God’s sake, to the Treasury. Another of the Trussette’s brilliant schemes, but unfolding fast, as the colleagues have worked out there will be fewer ministers.

Over a convivial lunch at “The Prisoner’s Friend” pub off Whitehall, Brandon Lewis, Party Chairman and Keeper of the Files, told Soames and Yours Truly that CCHQ had emails prepared to mobilise for an autumn election. Reminded me of those warning orders prepared by the British Army of the Rhine for a Bolshevik attack. Sad to say a similar end game!

Then we hear that Boris, as part of this Churchill nostalgia, wants to create a War Cabinet for Brexit. Jolly old D Lidington tells me they propose to meet in the Old Cabinet War Rooms to soak up the atmosphere and fag ash. The Imperial War Museum is promised £20 million to cover the lost tourist fees.

Meanwhile, there has been consternation here in the Palace of Varieties at proposals to put panic buttons and CCTV cameras in MPs and Peers Offices. Some blather about preventing inappropriate behaviour. As Soames pointed out, more likely catching him and me watching Wimbledon and sinking a glass of bubbly after lunch.

Well, old lad, only three more weeks of these awful hustings I am spending this weekend in Northumberland with my grandchildren and the Jacks. Sort of loco parentis although apart from using me as a human version of a cash register in the wall, I see very little of the offspring. Plenty of cricket and Wimbledon to see on the telly.

Thank you for your invitation, Soames and I would be delighted to sup with you at the Silk Road Club next week – why not invite those jolly ladies Amber R and Penny M?

Yours at the going down of the sun,


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Iain Dale: If you’re coming to a hustings I’m chairing, draft an original question – and I’ll try to call you.

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

I’ve just finished reading ConservativeHome’s highly informative and entertaining interview with Boris Johnson. Put together with some of the other interviews he’s done this week, and you start to get the impression that the BoJo MoJo is returning.

I’ve always thought with big personalities like Johnson that things only start to wrong when their handlers try to muzzle them. He is like a big, loveable bear. Try to restrain him, and he becomes all sad and morose.

But give him the opportunity to show what he can do, and he will entertain the crowds and reap the rewards. The simple message is that sometimes you just have to let Boris be Boris, and accept the risks that come with that in terms of messaging.

In the ConHome interview, he reveals that he will expect every cabinet member to sign up to leaving the EU on  October 31st, come what may. It’s not quite the promise Esther McVey made in her short-lived leadership campaign, where she said she wouldn’t have any Remainers at all in her initial cabinet, but it’s quite something to reveal at this stage.

In theory, this might rule out Jeremy Hunt remaining in the cabinet. David Gauke has already said he wouldn’t serve, and it’s highly doubtful whether Amber Rudd or David Lidington could sign up for that. It’s clear that the composition of the next Cabinet will be very different to the current one.

– – – – – – – – – –

Some of you will have been at the Birmingham hustings last Saturday. It proved to be quite an event.

Given the story that dominated the news that day, I had no option but to ask Johnson about it, when it came to the 15 minute interview stage of the proceedings. I had planned my first question, but not what happened afterwards. I believed he might address the so-called elephant in the room during his speech, which I thought would have been the ideal way to deal with it. But that didn’t happen.

Without going into all the details of the exchange, I would genuinely have only spent a minute or two on it had he given any semblance of an answer. It was his prerogative not to, of course – and that’s the option he chose to take.

At the third time of asking some in the audience started booing me, while some others were apparently shouting to him to “answer the question”. My first reaction when I heard the booing was to burst out laughing – but I didn’t. Frankly I had expected some sort of reaction like that, but I was only doing my job.

To CCHQ’s credit, no one tried to influence any of my questioning to either candidate. I totally get that if you’re supporting a candidate you want to protect them and their reputation by any means possible. I certainly wasn’t trying to do anything other than do my job – even though clearly some people thought I was grandstanding.

I didn’t look at Twitter until much later that evening, and it was quite something. A lot of people thought I shouldn’t have even asked one question, let alone five. Well, it’s a point of view I suppose, but we don’t live in a country where journalists are shackled from asking any question they like.

Just think of the fallout – not just for me, but for the party, or indeed Johnson himself – if I hadn’t asked a single question and just talked about Brexit or whatever other subject. It would have been written up as being something that might happen in North Korea. Move along, nothing to see here.

I would have rightly been seen as a complete patsy. No one would have emerged well from it. I totally get that Johnson himself, and his entire campaign team were probably pretty displeased by it, but a few days later, in the cold light of day, I’d be disappointed if they didn’t accept that I did the right thing.

– – – – – – – – – –

Today. I’ll be chairing the hustings in Exeter, then tomorrow it’s Carlisle and Manchester, followed on Tuesday by Belfast – and, next Friday, Gateshead and then next Saturday in Nottingham.

I had thought it would be great to spend so much time with the future Prime Minister of this country.  But I suspect whoever wins will be sick of the sight or me and the sound of my voice by the time we get to the last of the 16 hustings in London on July 17.

The challenge for me is to try to keep things fresh and not cover the same old, same old territory in each hustings. In a sense, I’m relying on the audience to do that, by coming up with some original questions.

I thought both candidates were very revealing when I asked them in Birmingham: “What’s the biggest personal crisis you’ve faced, and what did you learn from it?” We need more questions like that, rather than the hoary old chestnuts of “Will you definitely promise one hundred per cent to leave on October 31st?” or “Will you cancel HS2?” Been there, done that.

So that’s your challenge. If you’re coming to one of the other hustings, please do submit the most original question you can think of. No one from CCHQ interferes in the question selection process – so if it’s a corker, and I think it will elicit interesting answers, I’ll try to call you.

– – – – – – – – –

One other aspect of this week has fascinated me and it’s that people seem to think they know which candidate I favour. Some think it’s clear I support Johnson, others think it’s clear that I support Hunt.

Truth is – I don’t have a vote, and in all honesty I am genuinely undecided who I would vote for. I totally get Johnson’s argument that we must come out on October 31st, and the consequences for the Conservative Party and democracy would be catastrophic if we don’t.

But then again, Hunt’s argument that he’s best placed to negotiate a deal with the EU is also compelling. The truth is that, since I am uncharacteristically on the fence, I’m actually in a good position to give a voice to the ‘undecideds’ in these hustings.

The difference is that they have to come to a conclusion and put their X in a box. I do not.

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Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Long-Bailey seeks to make Lidington responsible for Trump

An audition for Rebecca Long-Bailey! Many of us have been waiting with some impatience for Labour to try out a new stand-in for Jeremy Corbyn, on the frequent occasions when he is called away from the Chamber on work of national importance, whether to commemorate the D-Day landings or abuse the President of the United States.

Emily Thornberry has been the Leader of the Opposition’s usual replacement on these occasions, and those of us obliged to sit through her performances have concluded that the Lady Bountiful of South Islington does not have the manner required to represent the People’s Party.

David Lidington, who for perhaps the last time was standing in for Theresa May, said he felt “slightly sorry” for Thornberry, who “seems to have been dispatched to internal exile”. He said this was a warning to “anybody at the Dispatch Box who outshines the Dear Leader’ that he or she “risks being airbrushed out of politburo history at the earliest opportunity”.

Long-Bailey: “He’s full of the banter today.” She said this in the unrancorous tone in which a grown-up might comment on the antics of a small boy, and proceeded to try to make Lidington responsible for the observations of Donald Trump.

The President, she observed, had said the NHS “is on the table” in trade talks, and the Prime Minister had remained silent.

Lidington batted that away without difficulty. Nor was he prepared to embrace Trump’s sceptical views about climate change. He observed that Labour wants to open a coal mine, but not burn the coal.

Long-Bailey claimed Labour does not support the opening of any coal mine – an assertion which produced roars of disbelief from the Tory benches.

After that, the session became rather quiet, and seemed to go on for longer than was strictly necessary. The Speaker might, one felt, have taken the chance to return to the half-hour format, while telling Members to ask shorter questions, and Lidington to give shorter answers.

Laura Pidcock (Lab, North West Durham) accused Lidington of being “just a stand-in while the vultures circle”.

That was unjust. Lidington may not be not Prince Hamlet, but as an attendant lord he is first rate. We shall watch with interest to see what becomes of Long-Bailey, so self-possessed despite being so new. Thornberry, by the way, was rather sportingly in the Chamber.

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WATCH: “Anybody who outshines the Dear Leader risks being airbrushed out of history” – Lidington cautions Long-Bailey

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Mordaunt leads the pack in our latest Cabinet League Table

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-May-19-1024x965 Mordaunt leads the pack in our latest Cabinet League Table ToryDiary Theresa May MP The Cabinet Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Ruth Davidson MSP Rory Stewart MP Philip Hammond MP Penny Mordaunt MP Paul Davies AM Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Mel Stride MP Matthew Hancock MP Liz Truss MP Liam Fox MP Karen Bradley MP Julian Smith MP Jeremy Wright MP Jeremy Hunt MP James Brokenshire MP Highlights Greg Clark MP Geoffrey Cox MP David Mundell MP David Lidington MP David Gauke MP Damian Hinds MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Chris Skidmore MP Chris Grayling MP Caroline Nokes MP Brandon Lewis MP Amber Rudd MP Alun Cairns MP

*Note: Theresa May scored -68.7, and Chris Grayling -72.4.

This month’s Cabinet League Table is very much a snapshot of the end of a regime. With the race to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party about to begin, there is very likely to be a substantial reshuffle in the near future.

A glance at the above chart suggests why one is needed: only eleven Cabinet ministers record positive scores from our panel, and even the top-rated minister has barely hit +50. Here are some takeaways:

  • Mordaunt tops the poll. Our last two surveys both had her in fourth, so the Defence Secretary’s leap to the top of the podium will do nothing, so soon after she wrote for us about the leadership, to cool speculation that she might be about to enter the competition herself.
  • Truss holds on to second place. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has endorsed Boris Johnson, so no leadership speculation here, but her energetic championing of small-state, pro-freedom Conservatism is clearly striking a chord with the grassroots.
  • Davidson is back. Ruth Davidson’s return to the front has been noted, and rewarded with a 16-point increase in her positive rating. Were she in the Cabinet, she would have taken the silver medal position from Truss.
  • In fact, all three podium slots are held by women. Mordaunt, Truss, and Davidson are the three most popular Conservative politicians with our panellists. At present not one is running for the leadership, but it nonetheless challenges lazy stereotypes about the Tory grassroots and should give those MPs in the leadership race food for thought.
  • Although May’s score remains Stygian. Although she is at least scoring better than Chris Grayling this month, this score is a sour note on which to depart Downing Street and will cast a shadow over those candidates trying to carry forward aspects of her legacy.
  • Gove, Hunt, and Javid have respectable scores… Of the leadership candidates running from the Cabinet, these three are clustered together near the top of the table. Ratings in the low-to-mid 20s would not ordinarily look like endorsements, but alas these are not ordinary times.
  • …whilst Hancock and Stewart struggle. The Health Secretary is at least in the black, with a score of 5.6. The International Development Secretary however is on -18, scarcely an auspicious jumping-off point for any leadership bid.

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